When Tracy Thorne, a Navy fighter pilot, came out of the closet on live television to Nightline's Ted Koppel in 1992, it was a defining moment in the fight for open military service and one of the transformative moments in my then-young activism. In the still-heady days after Bill Clinton's defeat of George Bush, it was a moment that felt like a tipping point, proof that the change we saw coming was around the corner. How could it not be, with honorable people like Thorne demonstrating their patriotism and dedication to service of their country?
Those hopes were dashed pretty quickly and the victory would be delayed for nearly two decades. And there would be no direct victory for Thorne, who was discharged from the Navy for being gay.
Today, Tracy Thorne-Begland, a married father of 7-year-old twins and a respected prosecutor in Richmond, is again at the center of our country's political struggle over gay issues.
Actually, that's not true. Thorne-Begland is the latest target of Virginia's increasingly degenerate Republican Party, the legislative leaders of which have rejected his nomination to serve as a General District Court judge simply because he is gay. There is no political struggle here when it has been consistently shown that large majorities of American citizens, left and right, believe gay people should be treated fairly (whether or not they agree on laws guaranteeing it). What just happened in Virginia is transparent, homophobic bigotry.
And it's bigotry unchecked by the supposedly moderate leaders of the state party, including Gov. Robert McDonnell, who has yet to meet an LGBT issue he can't equivocate his way through. Simply put, there is a rotten core in the Republican Party that its leaders are unwilling — or powerless — to confront.
I recognize that there is a consistent 20 percent or so of gay voters who support Republican candidates. It's fair enough, as it goes, and I've long agreed with the people behind Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud that LGBT involvement is necessary to help create an inclusive GOP. But when even the so-called leaders who claim to believe in fairness can't stand up to the minority of bigots in their party — whether it's McDonnell's averted eyes in the face of naked bigotry on the floor of the state Legislature or Mitt Romney's cowardice in kowtowing to the right-wing rampagers who drove an openly gay man out of his presidential campaign — it has become indefensible to cast a gay vote for the GOP.
The problem has already been apparent in the way the gay right's arguments for Republicans have devolved into silly semantics, such as ''Obama and Romney have the same position on marriage.'' Of course, after Obama's historic announcement, that's been replaced with, ''We're glad the president has come to share the view of Dick Cheney,'' as if we're all supposed to forget that despite having a lesbian daughter, Cheney ran on a ticket devoted to enshrining anti-gay discrimination into as many state constitutions as possible.
What Virginia Republicans did to Tracy Thorne-Begland — and all LGBT Virginians — was morally repugnant. It's a rot on the right that's not limited to Richmond, but reaches all the way up to Romney, whose recent repudiation of civil unions and gay adoption means his only ''pro-gay'' position is, ''Fine, you can see your dying boyfriend in the hospital, but don't ask for anything else.''
As long as this bigotry rules the party, Republicans aren't worth any vote — gay or straight.